Introduction

A couple weeks back, I contacted AMD to let them know I was working on a notebook review—a Clevo P170EM from AVADirect with HD 7970M graphics. Much to my surprise, when I received the notebook I discovered it used AMD’s Dynamic Switchable Graphics, now rebranded as Enduro. It has been just over a year since my last look at the technology, where things were so bad that I felt most users would be better off if they had only discrete AMD GPUs and no switchable graphics—or they could simply buy NVIDIA Optimus enabled laptops. The short story is that my initial experience with the P170EM was largely the same, only the lack of driver updates was even more damning when looking at a notebook sporting such a high-end GPU. What could be done? AMD scheduled a meeting with me to go over the latest updates, and thankfully things aren’t quite so grim as I first thought.

First, let’s get everyone up to speed. Historically speaking, AMD/ATI has been on the forefront of switchable graphics technology. While the first laptop with switchable graphics tested at AnandTech used NVIDIA’s implementation (the ASUS UL80Vt), Radeon-based alternatives also existed in a similar time frame. The main problems with early switchable graphics solutions is that they required extra hardware on the manufacturer side (muxes), increasing cost, and more importantly you were generally locked in to getting graphics driver updates from the laptop OEM. NVIDIA addressed both problems when they launched Optimus in early 2010, and while there were certainly some teething pains the vast majority of users have been pleased with the result. Where did that leave AMD? Simply put: out of most laptops.

Was it because NVIDIA had superior technology, better drivers, or better marketing? I’d say yes to all three, and it has been painful to watch as the number of laptops with discrete GPUs (at least in the US) has largely shifted to being NVIDIA products. Up until now, if you wanted a laptop with a discrete GPU, the ability to switch off that GPU, and you wanted regular driver updates, your only viable option has been NVIDIA equipped laptops. Perhaps that’s why every major OEM (along with most smaller OEMs/ODMs) ships at least some of their laptops with NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology. With laptop sales now outpacing desktop sales, giving up so much ground to their competitor is a serious problem AMD needs to overcome.

I should note that AMD has other products that actually help get around our concerns with Enduro. The Llano and Trinity APUs for example offer integrated GPU that are as fast (faster in some cases) as discrete GPUs. If you’re looking for a good budget laptop that gets excellent battery life and you don’t want to deal with switchable graphics at all, Llano started the trend of providing a decent GPU with acceptable CPU performance and Trinity continues that trend. Even better: driver updates aren’t a problem as there’s only one AMD GPU to contend with. Trinity/Llano didn’t win any awards for pure performance, but in terms of bang for the buck and creating a well-rounded device, the APUs have proven successful. But we’re not going to worry about Trinity/Llano or other APUs; today’s focus is on discrete GPUs and switching between these high-power, high-performance GPUs and low-power, low-performance integrated graphics.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the history of AMD’s switchable graphics as well as where they intend to go in the near future.

Recap: AMD’s PowerXpress, aka Dynamic Switchable Graphics, aka Enduro
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  • spaceman44 - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    So i have been experiencing some utilization issues with my 7970m. i'm not out to complain, (though i am super annoyed), just add my voice and some info to what seems to be the best place to actually get something done.

    Graphics Card:
    7970m

    AMD Catalyst Driver Version:
    8.951.6.0 not sure if this is 12.4 or what. This is the driver that came with the system when I got it about 2 weeks ago. I haven’t tried the new drivers (12.6 etc.) as from what I’ve read most people haven’t experienced much of a performance increase with said drivers.

    Operating System:
    Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit, SP1

    Issue Details:
    Basically the same under-utilization issues that most people have already noted. I can run BF3 (campaign) on ultra graphics and get an average frame rate of about 20ish fps, with GPU usage around 80-90%. Yet when I put all setting on low the av. fps only gets up to 30fps. Is mostly noticeable when walking from an indoor unlit area into a populated open battle (operation swordbreaker after cutting wire). I can achieve mid 50’s when inside but fps drops to low 20’s, at times less, outside. GPU utilization is around 40-60% using low settings.

    I’ve checked the GPU usage during a couple of benchmarks and found the results to be interesting.

    Luxmark openCL (sala, medium)
    GPU only – GPU usage, constant 98%, score - 1152
    GPU & CPU – GPU usage, constant 47%, score - 858

    Heaven DX11 (basic) –
    All settings max – GPU usage 99%, 16-40fps (low 20’s av)
    All setting off/low – GPU usage 50-98%, 49-92fps (55-65ish av)

    Using these low settings it seems like the lowest frame rate is achieved during the least taxing screens, because of GPU usage dropping (to 50%). While during the most taxing screens fps increases greatly, I would imagine for the opposite reason, GPU usage increasing to 98%. on max settings it runs as you would imagine, fps dropping during taxing screens and vice-versa.

    Games with under-utilization issue:
    Battlefield 3, Dayz (I know it’s in alpha so I can’t complain too much but it seems to be affected more than battlefield for me), Heaven DX11 benchmark, luxmark openCL benchmark. seeing as performance is so bad i'm hesitant to spend money on anymore games until a fix is found.

    CPU Details:
    core i7 3820QM

    Motherboard or System Make & Model:
    clevo P150EM

    Motherboard BIOS Version:
    stock
    Reply
  • Frallan - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link


    Well since this was an article that has caused you to be assaulted by frustrated 7970M owners who finally found someone who listened to them i think that you also deserve some encouragement.

    Well done bringing this up and well done writing the original articles about the issue. Now I wish I had found those articles when i did my research before i bough my 7970M 3 weeks ago... But that's my fault and its between me and AMD now.

    Also thank you for you stubbornness staying with the comments and answering.

    Take care
    F

    Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Friday, September 7, 2012 - link

    I think we all appreciate that AT and Jarred has taken notice that AMD is seriously lacking with their support for switchable graphics. The anger was that the article just seemed too forgiving on the issue.

    But more than anything, this issue has been going on for too long.

    I am very appreciative of what Jarred has done. I have created threads on numerous forums and only Rage3D has responded. HardForum is still mute on the issue, granted I haven't contacted Guru3D's owner directly.

    But anyone who is putting pressure on AMD to fix the issue, is a friend of mobile AMD users.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, September 8, 2012 - link

    Guru3D? They always seemed to lean more than a little towards NVIDIA, but if you don't ask... Reply
  • TokamakH3 - Saturday, September 8, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I'm surprised Kyle isn't more vocal about this issue. He usually doesn't take crap from hardware companies, but his is more of a desktop site. Reply
  • loop1982 - Sunday, September 9, 2012 - link

    Thanks to AnAndTech for bringing this issue up.
    I have bought the clevo model with the 7970m 2 month ago.
    I have to say I made major researches before buying.
    For 3 weeks I googled for notebook tests.
    On no side there was any sign that there was a issue.
    Top ratings for gaming it got.

    So I'm not only disappointed about how AMD deals with problems and won't buy a product from them again (my time costs money, I cannot research hundred of hours before buying).
    I will also never trust any of the big and well known notebook tester websites again and won't waste time on reading their reviews. Still now there is no single word added to the reviews, the card is because of the price still recommended over the Nvidea.

    At least you got a new regular reader and I think I'm not the only one.
    Reply
  • SymphonyX7 - Sunday, September 9, 2012 - link

    Apparently, I'm the only satisfied ATI mobile GPU owner here. It's not to say they've had good support since I've been stuck with my stock drivers up until now since there aren't new official drivers for mobile GPUs that support switchable graphics. Despite have stock drivers, I really do commend the performance of the ATI GPU on my laptop. I've got a Lenovo Y460 with a 1st gen Core i5 (Arrandale) + Radeon HD 5650. It's been over 2 1/2 years since I bought this and it's been able to stick with the newer laptops of my friends that have a 2nd gen Core i5 + GT 540M and the 3rd gen Core i5 + 630M. Taking into consideration that the 2nd and 3rd gen Core i5s are much faster, I'm very satisfied with its longevity! It's neck and neck with the 2nd gen Core i5 + GT 540M and it doesn't leave much ground to the 3rd gen Core i5 + GT 630M. Unfortunately for my friends who have a newer mid-range ATI mobile GPU, I cannot comprehend why most of them are actually slower than my HD 5650. The ones with the HD 6630 and HD 7660G in particular trail behind and sometimes get obliterated in performance against my laptop.

    Also, I have a personal preference for the switching capability since my very first laptop had a primitive switching solution as well (my first laptop was an Alienware M5500 aka Uniwill 259EN OEM unit). I'd prefer turning on the discrete GPU when I want it and not let some software do it for me. It was a relief when my Y460 can actually switch graphics without rebooting. My M5500 required me to select my graphics before I turn on the PC. I had to choose between the Intel GMA 950 or the Geforce Go 6600.

    Alas, I'll be waiting for the next iteration instead. Haven't seen a mid-range mobile GPU that can net a performance gain of 50% or high over my nearly 3 year old HD 5650 in any game. I noticed only newer games had the most performance gain on mid-range staples the GT 630 and 640M. Hopefully a bigger leap in performance for mid-range mobile GPUs next year.
    Reply
  • Vozier - Sunday, September 9, 2012 - link

    The topic here is enduro, wich the 7000 series ATI cards have, of course you are not the only Ati user satisfied, but you dont own a defective model. Reply
  • cartmanasan - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Folks,

    I have been using an M17x R4 and the 7970m is simply unbelievable! YES I did have to disable the iGPU. But that does not mean the card itself performs bad. 7970m is slower than 680m only by 5-8% on average. nVidia had to scramble to get a card working at the performance level of 7970m. 680m becomes faster after using the GPU boost functionality (although this does happen automatically) which leaves little room for over-clocking. 7970m over-clocked easily provides a 10% boost in performance. (You will be impressed with the over-clocking ability of this card and how much headroom this card has if you are into this! ).

    nvidia had been reducing their support for 3D applications as well. I use Maya, After-effects and zbrush, nvidia have been forcing their customers to use the expensive quadro series and 7970m has been a saviour here as it has better and improved performance around these applications whereas 680m actually has reduced performance compared to nvidia's own older cards.

    With regards to previous comments: a 7990m is difficult as 7970m is aleady at a TDP of 100.

    Is ENDURO a big issue: Yes.
    Does this affect the card performance: Yes
    Is 7970m a bad card: No
    Does 7970m perform well: Heck yes. (only on AW at this point)

    I feel sorry for Clevo owners. Am sure this issue will get fixed so you can enjoy the awesomeness 7970m is.

    Request: Jarred should compare the performance of these cards when doing a comparison around 3D applications. I wouldn't be surprised if one is 100% faster than the other around CAD etc !!!
    Reply
  • cartmanasan - Monday, September 10, 2012 - link

    Just to add to my previous comment : An over-clocked 7970m performs almost as good as a Desktop GTX 580 :-) Reply

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